Do you handle criticism well, viewing failure as a chance to improve?
Or do you shrink away and give up, thinking you’ll never get better?
Carol Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset’ has become a buzzword in recent years as a way to describe our internal beliefs about our skills, talents, and intelligence.
But despite its popularity, many of us aren’t sure what it means, or even how it looks in everyday life.
If you’re curious to learn a little more about how you view your capabilities, this article will dig a little deeper. Here, we’ll explore one of positive psychology’s most interesting phenomena and look at how you can develop a growth mindset to challenge your limiting self-beliefs.
Inside The Growth Mindset
In her pioneering book Mindset: The Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck describes a mindset as a self-perception or self-belief that we hold about ourselves.
When it comes to learning, growth, and achieving our personal goals, two mindsets are particularly relevant.
One is the growth mindset, or the self-belief that our talents and abilities are malleable (Dweck, 1999). If you hold this self-theory, Dweck argues that you believe you can develop, improve, and change your inner talents for the better.
You believe that with hard work, learning, and commitment, it’s fully possible to enhance your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
A fixed mindset, in contrast, refers to the belief that our abilities and talents are just that: fixed. Holding this mindset, you might believe that ‘you’ve got it or you don’t,’ and that we’re born with a certain ‘set amount’ of talent.
This perspective is somewhat akin to viewing talents as stable, immutable traits.
If you’re still not sure which describes your self-beliefs, let’s look at a few examples.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: Examples & Benefits
As we’ve seen with learned optimism, our self-beliefs significantly shape our behaviors. And when it comes to pursuing our passions and goals, psychological studies offer plenty of examples of why a growth mindset far outstrips a fixed one.
In a few academic publications, for example, students have been studied both in smaller classroom groups and at a national level (Cury et al., 2006; Yeager et al., 2019; Lewis et al., 2020).
With a growth mindset:
Students were more motivated to work hard and learn
They felt less discouraged or daunted by challenges along the way
They implemented more effective, evidence-based learning strategies with growth mindset training, and as a result,
They were more likely to succeed academically.
In daily life, you might be familiar with any of the following examples of a fixed mindset—which perhaps, you’re keen to change:
You receive negative feedback from a colleague and feel pretty irate. You get defensive, thinking: “I can’t help being useless at math.”
You come last in a race, and think:“It’s pointless to train anymore, I should stick to what I’m good at.”
Someone asks you to give a presentation, and you decline, thinking:“I’m just not a public speaker.”
If this sounds all too familiar, don’t be disheartened.
As Dweck’s growth mindset theory has blossomed in popularity, so has the research suggesting that changing your mindset is entirely possible.
The first step to doing so, you might be glad to hear, is becoming more self-aware of your beliefs.
In this next section, we’ll show you 9 ways to do that.
How To Develop a Growth Mindset: 9 Tips
As we’ve just seen, there’s plenty of evidence that changing your mindset is entirely possible through interventions, training, and practice.
We’ve also seen that it can be highly beneficial—so how do we start?
These 9 tips will help you become more aware of your self-limiting thoughts and start to cultivate a growth mindset:
Embrace challenges: Viewing challenges as opportunities rather than setbacks, or things to be feared, can help you get more comfortable with failure. The next time you sense something might be just a little out of your depth, like a test, competition, or challenge, embrace it rather than shying away.
Get more comfortable with failure: When you fail at something, try viewing it as a learning opportunity. What will you do differently next time? How will you tweak your approach?
Practice grit: Very roughly, ‘grit’ is the psychological term for perseverance and hard work - the belief that with great effort and passion, we can persevere successfully toward our goals (Hochanadel et al., 2015). Gritty behaviors are important to have a growth mindset because they strengthen our learning ability, so stick at it!
Try to accept your shortcomings: Nobody’s perfect—and that’s okay. The more you can accept your weaknesses, the more prepared you’ll be to tackle them.
Learn to love the journey:See improvement as a process, and be patient with yourself. Learning rarely happens instantly, so give yourself regular chances to reflect on your progress. Process, digest, and give it another go!
Be proud of your efforts and progress: Success takes more than just talent, so take pride in your efforts, learning, and progress. Celebrating how far you’ve come, your tenacity, or the little ‘wins’ on your learning journeys can even be incredibly motivating.
Be passionate: When we love what we do, we’re far more likely to stick at it until we improve. Try practicing your growth mindset by developing your passion for something you deeply enjoy - a hobby or a pet project.
Stay curious: Having—and owning—a growth mindset means asking questions. Of yourself, of others, and of the world. Try“What has this challenge taught me?” or“How can I use it to grow?”
Spot defensiveness: Try to take something valuable from constructive criticism, rather than feeling insecure or getting defensive. Instead of getting down about feedback, try to see it as helpful advice!
If these sound entirely doable, you’re already on the right track—but there is one more piece of particularly salient advice that can help you maintain the right mentality for the long haul.
According to Dweck, the trick to remaining in a ‘growth zone’ is...ownership.
Once you feel like you’re fostering a growth mindset, Dweck argues, don’t be afraid to own it. Embodying the right mindset means seeing yourself as “someone with a growth mindset,” even feeling it, and being proud of it, too.
At the end of the day, we’re all a work in progress, and that’s more than okay. It’s a growth mindset in action.
About The Author Catherine Moore
Catherine is an avid surfer, MBA, and Positive Psychology researcher and advocate. Working remotely around the world, her goal for 2021 is to catch the wave of her life.
She holds an MBA at the University of Bradford and a BSc in Organizational & Industrial Psychology from the University of Melbourne, including studies in neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, behavioral psych, personality, and social psychology, quantitative & qualitative research methods, positive psychology.
Cury, F., Elliot, A. J., Da Fonseca, D., & Moller, A. C. (2006). The social-cognitive model of achievement motivation and the 2× 2 achievement goal framework.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,90(4), 666.
Dweck, C. (1999).Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology Press.
Dweck, C. (2006).Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.
Yeager, D. S., Hanselman, P., Walton, G. M., Murray, J. S., Crosnoe, R., Muller, C. & Dweck, C. S. (2019). A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement.Nature,573(7774), 364-369.